Tag Archives: Brexit

Irish president skips meet with British queen

Irish President Michael D. Higgins’ decision to decline an invitation to attend an October ecumenical religious service commemorating the centenary of North Ireland–an event Queen Elizabeth II is expected to attend–has set off a firestorm of criticism.

Bobby McDonagh, a former Irish ambassador to London, Brussels, and Rome, weighed the go/no go quandary for The Irish Times:

On the one hand, the president, as someone who has been and remains to the forefront in promoting reconciliation, could have decided to attend the event. He could have noted that the intention was to “mark” rather than to “celebrate” the controversial events of a hundred years ago. He could have attended the religious service in the spirit in which the church leaders who issued the invitation no doubt intended it, as a prayerful ceremony to reflect on past events that have led to a century of much pain and heartache on all sides.

On the other hand, the president will have been aware that partition remains a deeply controversial and contested issue across the island and that many in Northern Ireland regard him as their president. He will have understood that the distinction between “marking” and “celebrating” can be deliberately muddied and would have been, by some, in this instance. He may have considered that the wording of the invitation, even if it refers to acknowledging failures and hurts, did not fully capture the organizers’ intention of marking the full complexity of our history, including radically divergent views on partition. He was also aware of his obligation to avoid political controversy; indeed in 2016 he pulled out of an event in Belfast to mark the Easter Rising because it did not have cross-community support.

Higgins made a state visit to the United Kingdom in 2014, including a stop at Windsor Castle, three years after the monarch visited the Republic of Ireland. Nevertheless, Ulster unionists (who declined to attend the 2018 visit of Pope Francis to the republic) have characterized Higgins’ decision as a snub to the queen. It’s certainly a distraction from their sinking poll numbers and ongoing struggles with Brexit and COVID-19.

Queen Elizabeth and Michael Higgins, with spouses and others trailing, in 2014. Photo from office of the President of Ireland.

Higgins has also faced some criticism at home. He told the Times:

There is no question of any snub intended to anybody. I am not snubbing anyone and I am not part of anyone’s boycott of any other events in Northern Ireland. I wish their service well but they understand that I have the right to exercise a discretion as to what I think is appropriate for my attendance.

Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches have said they will attend the Oct. 21 event. I expect there will be further developments over the coming month.

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

UPDATE: This story broke Aug. 31, a day after the original post, found below the graphic.

The population of the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland has eclipsed 5 million for the first time since 1851, near the end of the Great Famine, according to the Central Statistics Office. Then, about 6.6 million people lived on the island of Ireland, including the six counties of the North. Today about 1.9 million people live in Northern Ireland, for an island-wide total surpassing 170 years ago.

CSO graphic

ORIGINAL POST

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in Connecticut, closed for over a year due to COVID-19, will not reopen, owner Quinnipiac University says. The museum is said to hold the world’s largest collection of historic and contemporary Irish famine-related art works. The pandemic has further eroded the museum’s poor financial footing, which surfaced in 2019.

“The university is in active conversations with potential partners with the goal of placing the collection on display at an organization that will increase access to national and international audiences,” Associate Vice President for Public Relations John Morgan wrote in an early August statement.

The museum opened in 2012. The 175th anniversary of “Black ’47”, the worst year of the famine, is next year.

Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, founded and directed by history professor Christine Kinealy, remains open, as does the special collection of famine-related books, journals, and documents at the Arnold Bernhard Library on the Mount Carmel Campus, Morgan said.

I visited the library and museum in March 2013. I hope this impressive collection finds a good home.

More news from August:

  • “With economic crises spiraling out of control and Brexit casting the uneasy post-Troubles peace into doubt, republicans have found their political niche and are capitalizing on it,” Aidan Scully writes in Harvard Political Review. “Across the island, Sinn Féin is pushing up against decades-old traditions and systems and finding little pushing back. Ireland’s two-party system is gone, forever, and Sinn Féin is here to stay.”
  • Fresh polling by the Belfast Telegraph shows support for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has dropped 13 percent, placing it third among unionist parties and fourth overall in Northern Ireland, with Sinn Féin at the top. Elections in the North as scheduled for May 2022.
  • Ryanair announced it is leaving Northern Ireland, blaming air passenger duty and a lack of “incentives” from Belfast International and Belfast City airports. The carrier pulled out of Derry airport earlier this year.
  • Tourism Ireland, the island-wide marketing agency, has drawn criticism for using “Londonderry” instead of “Derry” in some materials. The former is still the official name, the latter in wider usage, especially since the hit television show “Derry Girls.”
  • Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell made headlines with comments about the church’s “underlying crisis of faith” and “current model of the Church is unsustainable.” Further context and perspective from Gladys Ganiel on the Slugger O’Toole Blog.
  • An eight-foot-tall, 1,600-year-old wooden sculpture was recovered a bog in Gortnacrannagh townland, Co. Roscommon during excavations for a road construction project, Smithsonian reported. The Iron Age figure was made from a split oak trunk and has what appears to be a human head and a series of horizontal notches carved along its body.
  • Ireland is missing its chance to protect its dwindling biodiversity with several iconic species of bird, fish and mammals under threat, TheJournal.ie reports in a special investigation.
  • “What I will miss most about the US is the people,” Irish Times Washington correspondent Suzanne Lynch wrote in her farewell column. “Wherever I traveled, I was consistently struck by the generosity and warmth of American people. Their relentless optimism, good humor and willingness to engage make it a pleasure to live in this country.”
  • See previous monthly round ups and our annual “Best of the Blog.”

Ballinskelligs, Co. Kerry.                                                  Courtesy Kevin Griffin via Fáilte Ireland.

The 12th in Northern Ireland, 1921 & 2021

UPDATE:

Annual Orange Order marches in Northern Ireland occurred without incident, police said, “allaying concerns that anger at post-Brexit trade barriers might fuel street violence,” Reuters reported.

The 35,000-member Protestant and unionist organisation held 500 smaller, local parades rather than the usual 18 larger gatherings due to COVID-19 restrictions. The annual events, which mark the 1690 victory at the Battle of the Boyne by Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James of England and Scotland, were cancelled last year. A leading Orangeman told the BBC the new arrangement “achieved what we have set out to achieve, we wanted to spread the crowds across Northern Ireland.”

A planned nationalist protest in west Belfast was cancelled after the Orange Order amended its parade route, BBC reported.

ORIGINAL POST:

July 12, 1921, marked the first time the Battle of the Boyne, the seminal event of Irish Protestant and unionist identity, was commemorated in the new statelet of Northern Ireland. The political partition of six northeastern counties from the remaining 26 occurred a month earlier. On July 11, 1921, a day before the 231st Boyne anniversary, Irish republicans and British forces began a truce in their two and a half year old war.

The 1921 United Press story on this page appeared on the front pages of dozens of U.S. newspapers. It reports the mix of traditional sectarian violence associated with the 12th and confusion over the day-old truce.

July 12, 2021, is the first time the Boyne anniversary takes place under the Northern Ireland protocol, a de facto trade border in the Irish Sea between the six counties and the rest of the United Kingdom. It became necessary due to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, called Brexit, to avoid a land border with the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the E.U. The protocol is “the most significant change [in Northern Ireland] that has taken place since partition,” unionist politician Reg Empey said. Violence erupted in Belfast earlier this year over displeasure with the arrangement, which critics say makes Northern Ireland “a place apart.”

Here is a sampling of media coverage about the current situation, including the protocol problems and Boyne anniversary. I have not yet seen any U.S. stories that make the connection between this year’s 12th events and the 1921 creation of Northern Ireland and truce. Full stories are linked from the date:

“The chief executive of Northern Ireland’s Protestant Orange Order does not sense any appetite among pro-British unionists to turn the July 12 peak of the annual marching season violent despite “a huge amount of frustration and anger” over Brexit.” Reuters, July 9, 2021

***

“But whatever tensions might have existed before … Brexit exacerbated them exponentially. For it revealed how Britain, which voted to leave the EU, sees Northern Ireland, which voted to Remain, as ultimately expendable. One of the clearest signs of this was the customs border in the Irish Sea that Britain negotiated with the EU. As of January 2021, it effectively separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and pushes the country closer toward the South’s economic sphere. This development, along with the various ways loyalist parties like the DUP were used as pawns during Brexit negotiations, has contributed to a growing sense of betrayal among Unionist politicians and their base.” Jacobin, (American leftist magazine, Brooklyn, N.Y.) July 7, 2021.

***

“Sinn Fein’s leaders say that, with a growing Catholic population and the fallout from Brexit, momentum is on their side. The unionist parties supported Brexit, while they opposed it. They view the campaign against the protocol as a futile effort that only lays bare the costs of leaving the European Union.” The New York Times, June 7, 2021.

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

Ireland is slowly emerging from COVID-19 lockdown. Outdoor dining for pubs and restaurants resumes June 7; indoor service is set to begin in early July. Fáilte Ireland, the national tourism development agency, launched a €4 million “Keep Discovering” marketing campaign to drive domestic holidays and help to reboot the industry. Foreign visitors still face restrictions, though many are expected to begin easing in July. … Nearly 7,100 people have died in the Republic (4,941) and Northern Ireland (2,153).

The Press Council of Ireland & Office of the Press Ombudsman declared in its annual report: “The Irish media’s response to the challenge of reporting on the first pandemic for over a hundred years was overwhelmingly professional with the provision of objective information, analysis and debate. This considerable achievement was made against a backdrop of significant declining resources and the need for remote working.”

More from May:

  • Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) selected Edwin Poots as its new leader. On the one hand, he is seen in the mold of the late Ian Paisley; on the other, some observers say he could be surprisingly open minded. Potts is opposed to Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade barriers (the Irish Sea “protocol”) and conservative on social issues. Potts pledged to unite the bickering strands of unionism to fight the Brexit deal and keep the province in the United Kingdom. … Doug Beattie, a British army veteran, was elected as the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in an uncontested race.
  • Britain announced plans for legislation to give greater legal protection to former soldiers who served during during The Troubles. sparking angry opposition from victims and lawmakers. The announcement came the day a judge-led inquiry in Northern Ireland found that British soldiers unjustifiably shot or used disproportionate force in the deaths of up to 10 innocent people in Belfast in 1971.
  • Irish and British government ministers are to meet for a formal summit on Northern Ireland in June in the first British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in two years.
  • Dáil Éireann passed a motion condemning the “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land by Israeli authorities. An amendment that sought to impose sanctions on Israel and expel the Israeli ambassador failed.
  • Ireland’s Health Service Executive and Department of Health experienced cyber attacks.
  • A pair of cranes are nesting on a revitalized peat bog in the Irish Midlands. It is hoped they could be the first of the species to breed on the island in some 300 years. …. Ireland has ceased industrial peat harvesting and begun rehabilitating thousands of hectares of boglands by rewetting the drained sites and recreating crane habitat.
  • Scientists at NUI Galway have found an alarming rise in Noble False Widow spiders and confirm their bites can require hospitalization.
  • Pedalmania: 32 cycle routes in Ireland, one in every county.
  • A decade has passed since U.S. President Barack Obama visited Ireland. In a May 23, 2011 address in Dublin, he offered “hearty greetings of tens of millions of Irish Americans who proudly trace their heritage to this small island.” Full remarks.
  • Image: Ross Castle, Killarney, Co. Kerry, from Tourism Ireland.

Troubles & Trimble return to Northern Ireland

The 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (April 10, 1998) arrives with a surge of violence in Northern Ireland. Though not a 10-year or quarter-century mark that would normally draw attention, events of the past week make this post as unavoidable as the media coverage from Belfast.

As The Washington Post reported, the violence has been “triggered in part by pro-British Protestant unionists who fear that their home is drifting away from Britain in the new realities of a post-Brexit world.” Then, “hundreds of Irish nationalist and unionist demonstrators began to face off, a worrying escalation that stirred old memories of the 30 years of sectarian violence known as the Troubles, which led to the deaths of 3,500 civilians, British security personnel and paramilitary members.”

David Trimble, left, and the late John Hume after winning the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize. Irish Times photo.

One early opinion piece about the latest round of troubles comes from David Trimble, the former unionist leader, who shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with the late nationalist John Hume for their work leading to the Good Friday Agreement. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Trimble says the GFA:

protected the union and put the future of Northern Ireland in the hands of its people. Voters put their trust in my assurances and supported the agreement. Now this promise of self-determination is under threat due to the Northern Ireland protocol …

The protocol doesn’t safeguard the Good Friday Agreement. It demolishes the agreement’s central premise by removing the assurance that democratic consent is required to change Northern Ireland’s status. That is why I feel betrayed personally by the protocol; it is also why the unionists in Northern Ireland are so incensed at its imposition.

Unsurprisingly, Trimble’s piece is pocked by selective memory and self-promotion.

  • He spits about the terrorism of Irish republicans but ignores the murders and other violence committed by Northern Ireland’s loyalist mobs in collusion with British police and military officers.
  • He avoids mentioning that that majority of people of Northern Ireland voted against Brexit … they wanted to remain in the EU … but got drag in by the conservative xenophobes of the English Midlands.
  • He neglects to say that PM Boris Johnson and the British government that he and other unionists are so attached to (along with the monarchy) negotiated and agreed to this protocol.
  • Finally, he willfully ignores the fact that Johnson and many MPs in Parliament would be happy to jettison the six counties of the North, which are a drag on the British treasury.

Trimble should work to facilitate the smooth reunification of Ireland, which would eliminate all the trade barriers he ostensibly worries about. More importantly, it would help bring about the healing of the now 100-year-old division of the island of Ireland. This ultimately would be more in line with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

I’m not saying this would be easy. But it is the best solution for the future.

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

Two of the blog’s sharp-eyed email subscribers, both journalists, tipped me on two of the stories in this month’s roundup, which includes news about an old building in New York City, and a new building in Cork city. Enjoy. MH

  • For the second year, St. Patrick’s Day parades and related events were either cancelled, downsized, or made virtual due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. About 6,800 people have died in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland since the pandemic began a year ago.
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James has agreed to review the proposed sale of the American Irish Historical Society building in Manhattan. The 1901 Gilded Age mansion has been the society’s home for 80 years. The Irish government, which has given nearly $1 million to the society since 2008, has decried the proposed sale, and dozens of prominent artists and business leaders have joined nearly 30,000 others in petitioning James to step in. (Thanks Gary S.)

American Irish Historical Society at 991 Fifth Avenue. Photo: Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK.

  • Marty Walsh, the Irish-American mayor of Boston since 2014, was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor in the Biden administration. His parents were 1950s emigrants of County Galway.
  • Vicki Kennedy, widow of the late U.S. Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy (D-Mass.), is said to be on President Joe Biden’s short list for U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. Others include Chicago lawyer John Cooney, New York civil rights lawyer Brian O’Dwyer, former Ireland Fund Chairman John FitzPatrick,  Massachusetts state rep Clare Cronin, and former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tommy O’Neill, son of former House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill, according to IrishCentral.
  • Former U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, a Biden ally earlier believed to be in line for the ambassador’s post, instead joined the Irish executive consultancy and lobbying firm Teneo as a senior adviser.
  • Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement is under threat and a “Pandora’s box” of protest and political crisis will be opened unless the European Union agrees to significant changes in the Brexit deal with the United Kingdom, Reuters reported. At issue is a dispute over the implementation of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol in the Irish Sea, which is designed to prevent a hard land border with the Irish Republic. Militant unionists in the north complain the arrangement segregates them from the rest of the U.K..
  • The Journal.ie attempted to answer, “How would a united Ireland do economically?
  • The Republic announced “Our Rural Future, 2021-2025” plan, which calls for 20 percent of government employees to work remotely  or mixed city center and rural locations by December, with further decentralization in following years.
  • Old Ireland in Colour, a collection of 170 black and white photos colorized through a combination of cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology and old fashioned historical research, has been enjoying huge sales since its 2020 release. CNN and the Daily Mail published the latest features. (Thanks Bill T.)
  • Pope Francis elevated to International Marian and Eucharistic Shrine status the church and grounds at Knock, County Mayo, site of an 1879 apparition.
  • Technology firm Intel announced it will create 1,600 permanent high-tech jobs at its Leixlip campus in County Kildare.
  • Cork city officials and business leaders have applauded the decision by An Bord Pleanála, Ireland’s national planning review board, to grant permission for a 34-story hotel and commercial tower on the site of the former Port of Cork. It would become Ireland’s tallest building. An Taisce, Ireland’s national historic trust, complained it will create “enormous change in the character of the city’s skyline.”

Artist rending of Cork city tower.

Irish Americans back united Ireland with ad buy

I don’t usually pay much attention to advertisements as I scan the headlines and top paragraphs of The Washington Post, the day’s first pot of coffee percolating near the left edge of the newspaper spread on my kitchen counter. The half-page ad on A5–my second page turn–caught my attention: A United Ireland: Let The People Have Their Say.

Friends of Sinn Féin USA and five other Irish-American groups paid for the black and white ads in the March 10 issues of the Post and The New York Times a week before St. Patrick’s Day focuses on relations between the two countries. Full-page with spot color versions of the ads appear in the Irish Voice and Irish Echo newspapers. The ad says, in part:

A new Ireland is emerging, and more and more people are looking beyond the divisions of the past. A new Ireland is seeking to undo the damage of the undemocratic partition of Ireland 100 years ago and the recent British government imposed Brexit.

“Britain’s exit”, or Brexit, was decided by a 2016 referendum. Voters in the six counties of Northern Ireland opposed leaving the European Union. The British and E.U. governments, including the Republic of Ireland, spent years hammering out the details of the departure.

Earlier this month, the Post published a Bloomberg business analysis that said while a united Ireland is “unlikely anytime soon … the fact that the possibility is being openly discussed again is testament to the forces unleashed by Brexit.”

We’ve been hearing this since 2016. Nearly two years ago to the day, Times columnist Timothy Egan, also citing Brexit, wrote: “From the depths of British bungling, hubris and incompetence is emerging a St. Patrick’s Day miracle: the real chance of a united Ireland.”

Let’s see what happens by St. Patrick’s Day, 2022.

When ‘northern’ Ireland became ‘Northern’ Ireland

On Jan. 5, 1921, The New York Times published an Associated Press dispatch from London, which began:

Ulstermen are preparing to make the opening of the Parliament for Northern Ireland as picturesque and imposing as possible, endeavoring to obtain the consent of the King to open the first session in person, or to have the Prince of Wales do so if the King is unable to be present, says the London Times.

Daily papers in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in America and Canada printed the same report, with two small but significant differences to the sentence: a lowercase k in king and n in northern. These papers followed AP style rules, which only capitalize “king” or “queen” when used before a proper name: King George V.1

Using a capital K to refer to the monarch without his name was a New York Times’ style preference, a sign of deference to the title, one that probably reinforced the opinions of the paper’s Irish-American critics. The Times, many said, was anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, and a “proponent of dead and gone imperialism.”2

The copy editing decisions about Northern Ireland or northern Ireland were trickier. In January 1921, it became simultaneously a new political place in addition to an ancient geographic location.

Names & Places

Northern Ireland in bright orange, rest of Ireland uncolored. United Kingdom, including England, Scotland, and Wales, at right in light orange. (Alpha History map.)

King George gave “royal assent” to the Government of Ireland Act 1920 less than two weeks earlier, just days before Christmas. The legislation had slogged through Parliament since before the Great War began in 1914. What started as a “home rule” bill to provide domestic autonomy for all of Ireland now engineered the island’s post-war partition.

Under the new law, “Northern Ireland” consisted of the parliamentary counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, and the parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry. The rest of the island became “Southern Ireland”, including the remaining three counties in the province of Ulster: Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan.

The law allowed northern Protestants to manage their domestic affairs without having to share home rule with southern Catholics. The new names had begun to appear in 1920 U.S. press reports. Both Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland would remain part of what was then called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Republican Opposition

Since December 1918, however, Irish separatists had won elections and fought a guerrilla war to secure a republican government independent of London. They were not about to accept a home rule parliament still tied to the crown. In April 1921, the National Catholic Welfare Council (predecessor of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) News Service reported:

Election under the partition act are, according to arrangements made by the British government, to take place on May 3rd next in “Southern Ireland” and “Northern Ireland.” So detested is partition by the majority that the refusal of the people of four-fifths of the country to work the act is a certainty.3

The Southern Ireland parliament was never formed. The war of independence continued through December 1921, when a treaty resulted in the creation of the Irish Free State. It was not yet a republic, but it was more independent than Northern Ireland. In 1930, Irish immigrants in America for more than a decade would answer the U.S. Census “Place of Birth” question with political names they had never used before leaving.

King George V did attend the June 1921 opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament at the Belfast City Hall, a “picturesque and imposing” Baroque Revival building opened 15 years earlier. In his speech, the king hoped the arrangement would be temporary and appealed for eventual reconciliation, “a day in which the Irish people, North and South, under one parliament or two, as those parliaments may themselves decide, shall work together in common love for Ireland upon the sure foundations of mutual justice and respect.”4

King George V opens the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast in June 1921.

Centenary & Brexit

Ireland has remained divided for 100 years. Tensions between Northern Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants in the late 1960s erupted into the three decades of sectarian violence known as The Troubles. This year’s Northern Ireland centenary and simultaneous departure of the United Kingdom (which includes Northern Ireland, but not the southern Republic) from the European Union has put fresh attention on the Irish border.

By placing a new customs border in the Irish Sea rather than the 300 mile land line with the Republic, Brexit has turned Northern Ireland into “a place apart.” In essence, Northern Ireland has been partitioned from the rest of the U.K. Staunch unionists say they are “much better off in the United Kingdom than they are within the Republic of Ireland or within a European superstate,” Reuters reports.

Some Irish nationalist politicians and other Irish island proponents, refusing to acknowledge the century-old political state of Northern Ireland, refer to the place as “The North,” “The north of Ireland,” or the “Six Counties.” They sense an opportunity to press the case for reunification, though a referendum to undo partition appears a few years away, at the soonest. And there is no guarantee it would pass on both sides of the border, as required by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement … or imagined by King George V during his 1921 speech in the new Northern Ireland.

I’ll have more posts on these historic and contemporary topics throughout the year.

Happy New Year 2021; remembering 1921

Happy New Year. Let’s hope that by the second half of it we are on our way to a post-pandemic world. I wish health and peace to all of my email subscribers, other regular readers, and new visitors in 2021.

Journalism & history

This will be the third year of my American Reporting of Irish Independence centenary series. Subjects will include Irish relations under new U.S. President Warren G. Harding, American relief efforts in Ireland, May 1921 partition of the island, July 1921 truce, and December 1921 treaty.

I will continue to explore coverage of these events in Irish-American newspapers such as The Gaelic American, New York; The Irish Press, Philadelphia; Kentucky Irish American, Louisville; and the News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, based in Washington, D.C. In addition to other mainstream press, this year I also will delve into 1921 reporting in the Marion Daily Star. President Harding owned and edited the Ohio daily (except Sundays). The north-central Ohio community was not a hub of Irish immigrants and their offspring, but rapidly unfolding developments from Ireland were front page news nearly every issue.

In the spirit of this centenary series, here is an excerpt from a Jan. 1, 1921, story in The Irish Press:

Recorder Of News Was Honored In Old Ireland

Ever since the ancient days men who gathered and recorded news faithfully have been accorded the highest honor, whilst those who spread false reports have been ruthlessly punished by their fellow countrymen. … The poet of the ancient days in Ireland was the substitute of the modern newspaper reporter. It was the poet who got out the ‘extra’ containing the latest war news, the poet who recorded the deeds of valor and athletic prowess, the poet who recounted the social events of his day. He was the voice of the people and, if as such, he abused his high privilege, then an outraged people poured vials of its wrath upon his head.

The evolution of the newspaper, from the days of the scribes to the present day, is a story full of strange romance. … The files of old newspapers are the most valuable history books that any nation could give to its children. The historian is, after all, only a dealer in second-hand news. … In the years to come, when the present war in Ireland shall have passed into history, when the Republic of Ireland shall have become free, strong and prosperous, students of Irish history in America will regard the back volumes of the Irish Press, published during Ireland’s dark days, as the most reliable and valuable history obtainable.

To be clear, with its direct ties to the separatist government in Dublin, the Irish Press is a highly biased source. The story above was part of a campaign to boost the paper’s circulation and subscriptions. The effort failed. The weekly folded in the middle of 1922, ending a four-year publishing run.

December news roundup

Here are a few contemporary stories from December that you may have missed:

  • “There is no such thing as a good Brexit for Ireland, but… I believe the agreement reached today is the least bad version of Brexit possible, given current circumstances,” Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin said after the Christmas Eve announcement of a deal between the U.K. and E.U.
  • Pope Francis appointed Bishop Dermot Farrell of Ossory as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s successor in the archdiocese of Dublin, the largest Catholic diocese in the country. The formal installation is Feb. 2.
  • The United Nations ranked Ireland tied for second in the world in quality of life in its annual Human Development Report. It shares the honor with Switzerland. Norway topped the list of 189 countries. The top 20 includes Germany (6), Sweden (7), Australia (8), Denmark (10), the United Kingdom (13), and the United States (17).
  • The BBC’s “Future Planet” series featured a story on “How Ireland is abandoning its dirty fuel“, the island’s distinctively-smelling peat, or turf.
  • “I believe we can be the generation that achieves a United Ireland,” former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams wrote Dec. 18 in Newsweek.I also believe that this generation of Irish Americans can be the first to return to a new and united Ireland, knowing that they helped achieve it.”

Record site traffic

This site had record traffic in 2020, whether driven by COVID-19 quarantine, quality Irish history content, or both factors. Full year traffic increased 118 percent over the previous three-year average. We’ve had 13 consecutive months of record monthly traffic since December 2019. Our daily visitor average more than doubled. Thank you. MH

On the Antrim coast, July 2019.

When hope and history rhymed in Ireland, 1995

There’s been plenty of talk lately about how Irish-American Joe Biden as U.S. president might influence the impact of Brexit on both sides of the Irish border. Twenty-five years ago, another U.S. president loomed large in Irish affairs and helped set the stage for the Good Friday peace agreement.

Bill Clinton became the first American leader to set foot in Northern Ireland, Nov. 30, 1995, followed by stops in the Republic of Ireland. He quoted Irish poet Seamus Heaney long before Biden:

I could not say it better than your Nobel Prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney, has said: We are living in a moment when hope and history rhyme. In Dublin, if there is peace in Northern Ireland, it is your victory, too. And I ask all of you to think about the next steps we must take.1

It took until April 1998 to reach the peace agreement, approved the following month by voter referendums on both sides of the border. The accord became effective in December 1999.

In Derry, Clinton shared the stage with John Hume, who would became co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble for their work on the Good Friday Agreement. Hume died in August. “I’ll never forget our night in Derry in 1995, with the town square and blocks around full of hopeful faces,” Clinton said in his official statement this summer.

Clinton and Hume in 1995.

At Mackie’s, a west Belfast textile factory, nine-year-old Catherine Hamill “stole the show” with her introduction of Clinton, Brian Rohan recalled in a 1996 story, recently republished in Irish America magazine.

“My first daddy died in the Troubles,” Hamill said. “It was the saddest day of my life. Now it is nice and peaceful. I like having peace and quiet for a change instead of people shooting and killing. My Christmas wish is that peace and love will last in Ireland forever.”

John D. Feerick also notes the “moving” introduction by the Catholic girl, joined by a Protestant boy, in his memoir, That Further Shore, published this year. The former Fordham Law School dean joined the U.S. delegation.

Clinton’s “speech of hope and promise for Northern Ireland challenged both communities to embrace peace and and open the door for greater economic development in the North and the employment that would follow,” Feerick writes in a five-page passage about the Ireland trip.2

Two weeks after Clinton turned on the Christmas tree lights in Belfast, Britain’s Daily Mail, Virgin Airways, and the Fitzpatrick Hotel chain flew Hamill and her family to America to be among Clinton’s invited guests at the tree-lighting ceremony at the White House. It was truly a season when hope and history rhymed.